March 23, 2020
El Salvador has a chance to lead the world. Among all the doom and gloom scenarios circulating around the Covid – 19 outbreak, there is a chance that El Salvador triumphs over the pandemic.
El Salvador is a little known Central American country with a rough past, that I have called home for quite some time now. It is a country approximately the size of Massachusetts and home to 6.3 million citizens. In recent years, the country has started to change it’s reputation in the world community. Positive media, grass roots movements, small businesses and tourism have flourished in El Salvador over the past few years. The country has even attracted some world class interest, such as hosting the final ISA surfing games, a qualification event for surfers wanting to compete in the 2020 Olympic games. Record numbers of the million or so Salvadoreans who live abroad are coming home to visit family and discovering that their country of origin has changed for the better.
On March 11th 2020, this all came to a standstill. Before a single confirmed case of the Corona virus had appeared in the country, El Salvador’s government quarantined the entire population. Overnight the beaches emptied and police told surfers to stay out of the water.. Once flourishing bars and restaurants were without patrons, tourists panicked to fly home and most of the population started wearing face masks. People stockpiled for an apocalyptic event and started paying attention to the world pandemic. While things look dire now, there is a chance that the small, densely populated nation might have success in avoiding the pandemic all together. Here is how swift new measures could lead to the best case scenario for the people of El Salvador:
At 4pm on March 11, Nayib Bukele, the president of El Salvador, issued an order closing the international airport to all incoming travel. Passengers were given the option to quarantine at shelters or fly out of the country immediately. This even applied to those in the air when the order was issued. International land travel was also closed. Anyone who chose to enter the country was given a mandatory 30 days isolated from the general population. As 28 days should be sufficient to prevent the spread of the contagion, any threatening cases of the Corona virus would have had to enter El Salvador prior to March 11th. At the writing of this article, five known cases, mostly from Europe, were prevented from entering the general population of El Salvador. It is unknown exactly how many people entered El Salvador carrying the Corona virus before March 11, but by March 25 each of those cases should be showing symptoms and by April 8 they should be recovered.
At 4pm on Saturday March 14 , Nayib Bukele issued an order to close all places people gather. Major events, bars, restaurants and social gatherings were canceled or closed. Owners complied, doors were shut and patrons turned away. This is the opposite of what happened in Wuhan China, home of the live animal slaughterhouse where the Corona virus known as Covid – 19, jumped species. The biggest outbreak in Wuhan happened as a result of a holiday festival. The government knew about the Covid -19 outbreak and still allowed a large and densely populated festival to take place. It should not come as a surprise that the minor outbreak shifted to a major outbreak a week after the festival.
In El Salvador, all events and social gathering were closed before a single documented case.
At 8:30pm, Saturday March 21, Nayib Bukele addressed the nation for a second time, announcing strict rules restricting movement and enforcing social distancing. Under a quasi -martial law, all nonessential movement has halted. There are police and military checkpoints on every major road restricting travel between the fourteen states of El Salvador. Many municipalities are sectioned off as well. People are only allowed to travel to the nearest food market, pharmacy or bank. Only one designated member of each household is allowed to leave the house. They are strongly encouraged to wear a mask, gloves and sanitize thoroughly before reentering their home. Only people vital to the survival of the country are allowed to leave for work or other responsibilities. Violators are forcibly sent to quarantine camps.
Currently, the in-home quarantine is set for thirty days. As the sun set on the first day, only 3 cases of the virus in general population have been reported. These, perhaps draconian measures, come ahead of almost all other nations with exponentially more outbreaks in general population.
In populations, Covid – 19 infects clusters of people. It is passed easily, no doubt, but the pattern of infection is still limited to direct contact with a contagious person or contact with a surface that an infected person has contaminated. The Diamond Princess cruise ship in the Pacific Ocean, is a perfect example of a closed environment without isolation controls. 3,711 people were trapped with the virus with no contagion contamination controls. It is essentially the ideal breeding grounds for the virus. In such an environment, where over half the population onboard are in the highest risk group for developing Covid – 19, 19% of those on board developed symptoms and 1% died.
Like the cruise ship example, El Salvador is densely populated and has a large elderly population. But unlike the cruise ship, Bukele and the government understand the dangers of the virus if people do not isolate. Following the data from the Diamond Princess, numbers would be catastrophic and cripple the small country. The medical system could not handle 1,190,000 cases of Covid – 19 nor would the country like to see 63,000 deaths, a similar figure to that of El Salvador’s infamous twelve year civil war. The only thing we should do is stay six to eight feet from all other humans, avoid touching common surfaces, avoid touching your face without washing your hands & simply #staythef**khome
Now El Salvador is waiting. We are about to see the sun rise on the third day of the self quarantine. To this point there have been just the three cases confirmed in the general population. Those three cases could easily become thirty or even three hundred within the next few days. However, with quick responses and empty roads, experts could track the clusters of outbreaks and they could be contained at those levels, allowing only a fraction of viral transmission compared to anywhere else in the infected world.
El Salvador could succeed in flattening the outbreak curve right now and is clearly ahead of the outbreak when compared to most other nations, even those at its borders. The low number of cases combined with the thirty days forced isolation of all human clusters within the general population, could be sufficient to let the virus peak and disappear with minimal further outbreaks. In other words, the government in El Salvador is listening to scientists, at least when it comes to Covid – 19. The strong measures El Salvador’s government is enforcing in relationship to the pandemic timeline, might isolate all of the Corona virus outbreak clusters within the thirty days of home quarantine. The swiftness that Bukele took the country into isolation, home quarantine and rapid response could be the key to winning a silent war.